This week we’ve heard a lot about secondary suites in the news, particularly revolving around the concerns of Westbrook residents who are seeing lots of secondary suites introduced in their area. So what is a secondary suite? How do they help the housing supply in Kingston? And how can we ensure this policy leads to the right outcomes?
Back in early 2013, City Council approved a policy that would allow residents to create a secondary unit or ‘suite’ in their home without having to obtain council’s explicit permission through a zoning bylaw amendment – a process that is both time consuming and expensive.
The idea behind the secondary suites policy is to provide more affordable housing across our community. For those looking for apartments to rent in a city with a low vacancy rate like ours, more secondary suites provide more rental options. At the same time, a secondary suite provides rental income that makes home ownership more affordable. In other words, secondary suites provide more affordable options and opportunities for both renters and home owners.
In 2013 the secondary suites pilot program was only introduced in the northwest suburban area of Kingston, largely because in other areas of the city there were concerns that adding too many secondary suites might overload the existing sewer system. The vision was to encourage an integrated, gradual expansion in secondary units across this whole area. But in the Westbrook neighbourhood there has been an unusually large and concentrated increase, primarily in new homes that were being constructed with secondary suites already included, transforming single family homes into duplex style homes.
The concerns of Westbrook residents raise important questions for us to consider, such as: Is this what was envisioned for the policy? Should the home owner be required to live at the address where a secondary suite is being built?
I believe in the importance of encouraging more secondary suites as a means to increase the supply of affordable housing in our city. And hopefully the questions raised about in Westbrook will help us get the policy just right before we extend it to the rest of the city.